Queens of the Airwaves

Women were some of Canada’s most popular broadcasters in the heyday of radio.

Written by Nancy Payne

January 30, 2018

To modern ears, the women who hosted programs on Canadian radio starting in the 1920s sound a bit too focused on perfecting roast chicken and starched shirts, but given the context, these women truly were pioneers. From poetry to political interviews to livestock reports, radio drama, news, music and household hints, these unflappable radio queens delivered it all.

Perhaps the best-known of Canada's female broadcasters is Kate Aitken, whose cookbook is still in print. She attracted millions of listeners to her radio show in the 1940s and 1950s. On this episode of her CBC radio program, she lauds notable women of the previous year.

And on this 1953 show, she provides practical funeral etiquette in her warm reassuring tones. 

In French-speaking Canada, Michelle Tisseyre was a fixture on the news and current events programming in the 1940s, making the move to television in 1953.

Archival recordings are not as easy to come by for other notable women in the history of Canadian broadcasting. Well-known and accomplished figures such as: Ontario’s Jane Gray, the first woman to be inducted into the CAB Broadcast Hall of Fame, Martha Bowes, Saskatchewan’s first female radio announcer, or Manitoba’s Lilian Shaw (her name was frequently misspelled). 

In this 1973 interview (in French) Radio-Canada’s Pierre Paquette interviews Michelle Tisseyre, looking back on her groundbreaking career. 

Learn more about these queens of the radio waves with “Radio Queens” by Nelle Oosterom and Garry Moir in the February-March 2018 issue of Canada’s History magazine. 

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